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ARS Home » Plains Area » Las Cruces, New Mexico » Cotton Ginning Research » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #310000

Title: Mechanizing chile peppers: Challenges and advances in transitioning harvest of New Mexico’s signature crop

item WALKER, STEPHANIE - New Mexico State University
item Funk, Paul

Submitted to: HortTechnology
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 2/28/2014
Publication Date: 6/30/2014
Publication URL:
Citation: Walker, S.J., Funk, P.A. 2014. Mechanizing chile peppers: Challenges and advances in transitioning harvest of New Mexico’s signature crop. HortTechnology. 24(3).

Interpretive Summary: This article discusses the importance of Chile Peppers to the culture and economy of New Mexico. It then describes typical plant characteristics of varieties cultivated in New Mexico. Area allocated for chile production has plummeted to 25% of what it was 20 years ago as the high cost of hand labor has driven production offshore. An overview of historical efforts is presented; dry red fruit has been successfully mechanized, succulent green fruit is still hand harvested. Recent green pepper mechanization research is summarized, and a call for a multidisciplinary whole-systems approach to converting to full mechanization is given.

Technical Abstract: New Mexican-type red and green chile (Capsicum annuum) is important to New Mexico’s identity and economy. Producers began experimenting with mechanical harvest in the mid-1960s, but efforts stalled in the 1970s. Adverse impact to production following the implementation of the North American Free Trade Agreement spurred renewed interest in chile mechanization. Through private and public collaboration, the red chile industry in New Mexico has successfully transitioned with more than 80% of domestic acreage currently mechanized. Green chile has proven to be more challenging with fruit damage and lack of efficient mechanical stem removal posing key obstacles. Recent identification and developments in equipment have provided necessary components for mechanization of green chile, but must be scaled-up to production volumes.